A most iconic and historically significant Tacoma church is facing demolition. During mass this past Saturday, parishioners at Holy Rosary Church on South 30th Street were told that their beloved, nearly century-old church would be permanently closed and demolished due to unsafe conditions and a huge cost for repairs and maintenance.
In a letter to congregants shared at the mass, Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain declared that the price tag to fully repair, restore and maintain Holy Rosary is “simply unaffordable. Therefore, after a great deal of prayer and wide consultation, I have decided to issue a decree to close and raze the church building.”
According to Sartain, more than 800 hours of time and consultant resources went into identifying a solution to restore the church. “The Archdiocese prepared six separate assessments to understand fully the situation,” he wrote. “Through that process, it became clear that the renovation cost to re-occupy the building and complete the required envelope repairs would be approximately $7 million. To make all required structural repairs, the total cost would be nearly $18 million.”
Last year, a piece of ceiling fell into the choir loft, alerting church staff to a leak in the ceiling. Further investigation showed that more than a decade of deferred maintenance was to blame. During a preliminary assessment, it was found that the roof hadn’t been cleaned in some time and there was a build up of branches, leaves and debris clogging the church’s drainage system. While this was corrected immediately, there is other damage to address.
Sadly, next year would be the church’s 100th birthday. Holy Rosary Church was built on land purchased by settlers in Tacoma in the fall of 1890. The parish was established and a wooden church and school were built on the in the 1890s. Holy Rosary Church as it stands today, with its neo-Gothic architecture and 210-foot-high steeple, was rebuilt on the same site, and after seven years of construction opened in 1920 to serve the Catholic families of Tacoma. It is registered as one of Tacoma’s Historic Places and is currently listed as “threatened,” which is its most critical rating.
CALL TO ACTION
Parishioners, who have been forced to hold mass in the Holy Rosary Bilingual Academy school auditorium, aren’t taking the news lying down. They have until Sept. 9 to file an appeal. For the past six months, efforts to save the church have been organized through “Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church” on Facebook, and at www.SaveTacomasLandmarkChurh.com. Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church is a not-for-profit Washington corporation, a registered state charity, and is fully vested 501(c)3.
Made up of a coalition of parishioners, alumni, area Catholics and community members who want to preserve one of Tacoma’s crowning glories, the initial goal is to raise the $2 million to get the church open for worship then to raise the needed $18 million for complete restoration.
Joy Donohue is one of three Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church board members. “It’s horrible to think that an organization that is supposed to bring the community to God and help the poor and meek would take away the one thing that’s helping,” she said, commenting also on Sartain’s assessment that the Holy Rosary congregation has “been in a continued decline.”
“It does have dwindling parishioners, but who wants to go to church in an auditorium?” she asked.
The board is also taking issue with the Archbishop stating in his decree that Holy Rosary parishioners “clearly indicated a lack of support” for building a smaller church on the same spot once the demolition is complete.
If the demolition occurs despite the appeals, the Archdiocese says that it will continue to work with Holy Rosary parish leadership to assess options for Catholic use of the property, including low income or affordable housing
Donohue fears that once the church is gone, the school will be next. “Would you want to pay tuition for your child to go to school on a construction site, and pay tuition when there’s no church? It will be a construction site for years.”
She also feels that if this church were in Seattle, it would already be on its way to being fixed. “This is kind of a Tacoma ‘ugly stepsister’ situation,” as she put it. “This church is incredible – the nicest one in the city.” She said she believes that Holy Rosary’s beauty rivals Seattle’s St. James Cathedral where the archdiocese is headquartered.
Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church is doing all it can to rally public support. For example, every day at noon and 7 p.m. until Sept. 9 (the end of the appeal period), the people of Holy Rosary and the broader community join in praying the Rosary in front of Holy Rosary Church. Everyone is invited to attend these vigils, and the Thursday night planning and informational meetings at the Holy Rosary Convent Meeting Center, 6:30-8 p.m.
Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church has also retained the services of a Massachusetts attorney experienced in saving Catholic churches threatened with demolition and who has expertise in the civil and canonical law on this issue.
“He has 15 years experience representing individuals who want churches to stay open, and he only really deals with Roman Catholic faith,” Donohue said. “He started working right away and is guiding us on everything we need to submit a formal appeal.”
“We’ve been in communication with the Chancery officials, and we are looking forward to working with the parish leadership and the Archdiocese to save Holy Rosary,” said her fellow board member Jonathan Carp in a news release. “We believe that having such a beautiful building adorning Tacoma matters to all Tacomans, not just Catholics.”
YOU CAN HELP
Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church is welcoming any and all donations. The group says not to donate to the Archdiocese directly in order to keep all funds going to Holy Rosary directly. Those seeking to make large financial donations are asked to offer pledges at this point. Smaller donations made now help with funding yard signs, T-shirts and other means to spread the word. Donated funds not used will be gifted to the Holy Rosary Academy. In addition, a fundraising auction is being planned for January at Bellarmine Prep.
“The more money we can raise, the more we can show them (the Archdiocese) how the community and parishioners feel about what they’re going to do to our church,” Donohue said.
To stay up to date, “like” Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church on Facebook and visit www.SaveTacomasLandmarkChurch.com.